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Japan v, All Whites
Japanese Bench Strength Earns Win Over All Whites
by Jeremy Ruane
A late headed winner from substitute Shu Kurata earned Japan a 2-1 victory over the All Whites in a Kirin Challenge Cup contest watched by 38,461 fans at a rain-soaked Toyota Stadium in Nagoya on October 6.

The Blue Samurai, who have already qualified for Russia 2018, started like a house on fire against their New Zealand counterparts, and had they been at least two goals to the good by the ten minute mark, no-one would have begrudged them their lead.

Hotaru Yamaguchi rattled a post just two minutes into the contest, although any goal would have been ruled out as Shinji Kagawa fouled Andrew Durante in the build-up.

Four minutes later, Durante's timely intervention prevented Yuya Osako from turning home a Yuya Kubo cross to the near post, while Kagawa rattled the upright again two minutes later after Winston Reid - making a nowadays rare appearance for his country - miscued a headed clearance.

Osako then lashed a twenty yard snapshot narrowly past the upright as Japan continued to press for an early goal, but the All Whites weathered this early storm - as well as the inclement weather - and held strong again half-way through the first half as their hosts pressed again.

Yoshinori Muto dragged a shot past the post in the 22nd minute after a neat right-to-left move featuring fullback Hikori Sakai, Osako and Kagawa, who sent a shot blazing over the bar sixty seconds later upon receipt of the most gorgeous of cushioned lay-offs any striker could wish to receive - Yamaguchi's pass with the outside of his right foot was perfection personified.

Having kept their hosts at bay, the All Whites began to make in-roads into their rivals' half of the pitch towards the half-hour mark, at which point Costa Barbarouses released Chris Wood with a raking pass which allowed the striker to lash a twenty yard volley on the run narrowly over the bar.

This was one of the rare occasions in the first half when the visitors' play had an end product to appreciate. Far too often, the crucial pass or cross was sorely lacking in both quality and accuracy, aspects which the All Whites will have to rectify if they harbour hopes of conquering the fifth-placed CONMEBOL contender over two legs in November in order to join Japan at Russia 2018.

Roused by the threat on their goal, the Blue Samurai rediscovered their attacking mojo, and set about breaking the deadlock before the interval once more. Just three minutes after Wood's shot, goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima sent the ball downtown.

Kagawa flicked it on, to the glee of Kubo, who was running off the veteran striker. The younger man took the ball in his stride and got in behind the defence before rounding goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, who, crucially, forced Kubo well wide of the target. This significantly reduced the striker's chances of breaking the deadlock, and he duly drilled his shot into the side-netting.

After Marco Rojas and Barbarouses had combined to cause Japan's defence problems three minutes before the break, and Tomoaki Makino had blocked a Kip Colvey shot arising from his team-mates' industry, Japan went close to opening the scoring with a slick counter-attack seconds later, Osako heading over the bar at the near post upon receipt of Marino's cross from the left.

The second half was just four minutes old when Japan were presented with the chance to open the scoring by a harsh call from Hong Kong-based referee Kwok Man Liu, who adjudged that Durante had used his arm to block a goalbound shot from Yamaguchi.

You've seen them given, and not given. This one was, and Osako took great delight in sending Marinovic the wrong way from the penalty spot, to the undisguised glee of Japan's supporters, who roared out "Nippon" all the louder.

The All Whites, for whom Michael McGlinchey was earning his fiftieth cap, instantly sought to silence
the natives, unleashing the hitherto unused attacking weapon which is Michael Boxall's long throw-ins to cause panics in the ranks of  Japan's rearguard.

A 53rd minute hand-thrown missile into the penalty area wasn't dealt with at all well, and invited Ryan Thomas to let rip from twenty yards. Makino blocked the shot to safety, but the warning was there for all to see.

Japan failed to heed it, and five minutes later, the All Whites were level. Barbarouses made in-roads down the right before running up a cul de sac. Rojas was on hand to take over, and got to the by-line before delivering the perfect chipped cross to the far post, where Wood loomed large and duly headed home his 24th goal in "A" internationals, and fifth in the All Whites' last five games.

Cue a string of substitutions by both teams which did much to break up the flow of the game - to an extent. Because both teams fancied their chances of snatching a winner in the final half-hour.

The All Whites were first to threaten, Barbarouses holding up the ball on the right before laying it back into the stride of Dale Ingham, whose teasing cross for Wood was headed out to the edge of the area, where Thomas, striding onto the sphere, unleashed a firecracker which flashed narrowly over the crossbar.

Ingham had some problems of his own to deal with, however, in the form of Japanese substitute Takashi Inui, whose introduction gave the Blue Samurai extra impetus. He caused problems galore down Japan's left flank, and was a key factor in the home team's eventual victory.

Following Inui's introduction, Japan gradually got on top of proceedings again. Yuto Nagatomo drew a fine flying save from Marinovic in the 76th minute, after referee Liu had played a good advantage following a foul by Reid on Kubo, while five minutes later, substitute Kenyu Sugimoto headed narrowly wide on receipt of Yuki Kobayashi's cross from the right.

Still Japan pressed, Inui's fine run to the by-line culminating in a pull-back for Kobayashi, whose shot was parried to safety by Marinovic and sparked a Kiwi counter-attack which was cleared by Kawashima straight to Thomas, who opted to pass towards the flat-footed figure of Shane Smeltz when shooting at an untended net appeared to be the more appropriate action four minutes from time.

Relieved by this let-off, Japan promptly grabbed the winning goal inside the next sixty seconds. Inui, inevitably, was the architect, easing past Ingham before delivering a delicious cross to a spot just beyond the far post.

Rising unchallenged to meet it was Sakai, who guided his header inside and down to allow substitute Shu Kurata to stoop and head home from six yards - 2-1 Japan, their victory now all but certain.

Straight from the kick-off, the All Whites pressed for a second leveller, again via a Boxall throw-in. Once more, Japan's rearguard failed to adequately deal with this attacking weapon - why didn't the visitors employ it in the first spell? - and nearly paid the price, Wood weaving past a couple of opponents before setting up Reid for a twenty-five yarder which Kawashima smothered.

That was as close as Anthony Hudson's side got to upsetting their hosts, however, Japan closing out the match to the undisguised glee of the local faithful, whose sonic contribution to their side's victory should not be underestimated - the atmosphere they create is a big part of football in Japan.

Japan:          Kawashima; Sakai, Yoshida, Makino, Nagatomo; Kubo (Asano, 78), Yamaguchi (Endo, 90), Douche (Kurata, 82), Muto (Inui, 70); Osako (Sugimoto, 60), Kagawa (Kobayashi, 60)
All Whites:     Marinovic; Durante (booked, 22), Reid, Boxall; Ingham, McGlinchey (Tuiloma, 82), Rojas (Tzimopoulos, 75), Colvey (Doyle, 66); Barbarouses (Smeltz, 71), Wood (booked, 44), Thomas
Referee:     Kwok Man Liu (Hong Kong)


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